Nandigram, Jan. 3: A meeting on declaring an area “nirmal” (clean) has unwittingly sucked the Bengal administration into another land mess.
Clashes broke out this morning in a stretch earmarked for a special economic zone (SEZ) by Indonesia’s Salim Group, just when the Singur dust was beginning to settle.
Pitched battles were fought between a 3,000-strong crowd and police at Nandigram in East Midnapore after word spread that land acquisition has begun.
As night fell, the villagers began digging up roads to cut off police and officials. Armed with bows and arrows and swords, around 2,000 villagers held vigil near approach roads.
The administration also marshalled reinforcements, sending in 350 policemen, including Rapid Action Force personnel, by the evening.
The SEZ needs over 14,000 acres.The SEZ will be spread over 29 mouzas, with 27 in Nandigram, unlike the Tata project in Singur that covers 997.11 acres in five mouzas.
Nandigram, around 150 km from Calcutta and near the coast, has mostly single-crop land (multi-crop is more contentious) as well as some fishing sites and falls under the Haldia Development Authority.
The area is a stronghold of the CPI, a partner in the Left Front, and today’s protests drew several party activists, besides those of the usual opponents — the Trinamul Congress, the SUCI and Naxalites.
The government has not yet started the spadework in Nandigram but the violence is a grim reminder of the challenges that lie ahead when the acquisition eventually begins.
Tension rose when the authority informed the panchayat yesterday that land would be acquired from 27 mouzas.
This morning, a meeting was held in the Garchakraberia panchayat office to discuss a central team’s visit to declare the area “nirmal” in recognition of its sanitation facilities.
Thinking steps were being taken to begin land acquisition, nearly 3,000 villagers ransacked the panchayat office and set on fire two police vehicles. At least 15 policemen and many villagers were injured.
Villagers said police fired in the air, but district magistrate Anup Agarwal did not confirm it. “I have reports that some villagers used firearms.”
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said no acquisition notices have been served.